A Marriage Made in the Neighborhood

Some real love stories are better than anything written for Hallmark movies. We had the wonderful opportunity to attend a wedding today that united two amazing young people in marriage. They are really special, and that’s due in no small part to their families. We have the great honor to know both families. In fact, the bride grew up across the street from us, and the groom’s mother bought the house next door to us eleven years ago. This truly is a romance made in the neighborhood.

When we first met the bride, she was a toddler, not even two years old. She and her older sister are just a little more than a year apart. Somewhere in our collection of photos we have a picture of these two adorable little blond girls playing with the puppy we got back in 1987. Their younger brother came along several years later, and became a playmate to our oldest daughter who had been born just eight months earlier.

It’s a testament to our neighborhood that some people simply choose to never leave it. The bride’s family outgrew their home, so they moved two houses up the street. A few years later after we outgrew our home, we bought the house next door. That’s when we sold our first house to the groom’s mother and they moved into the neighborhood.

Handsome groom and beautiful bride!

Handsome groom and beautiful bride!

The bride went to college, but then moved back home to start her career in her hometown. She lived with her parents, but when the house across the street from them went up for sale her dad said to her, “if you don’t buy that house, I’m going to.” So she did, and she moved across the street.

The groom went to college, then started his career and later bought another house across town. But his mother still lived in the neighborhood, where he couldn’t help but notice the very attractive young woman up the street.

These two started dating, and eventually he moved in with her in the house across the street from her parents and two houses away from his mom. It’s a neighborhood love story.

After seeing them together, and witnessing their marriage vows, I am pretty sure this is just the beginning of their story. They are fun together, and they are very good friends. We wish them many years of happiness as their love story continues.

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Socially Awkward

There is no privacy online. I guess that pretty plainly states a fact. But more and more often I have seen Facebook friends posting the hoax “privacy and copyright” notice which has been debunked by Snopes and others numerous times.

The whole purpose of Facebook is sharing. We share our lives, our thoughts, our images, our proudest moments and our most difficult emotional turmoil. For better or worse, we share our political opinions and we wear our religion on our very public sleeves (although I tend to steer clear of both of those topics most of the time.)

Let’s start with who sees my stuff online. For the most part, I am careful about who I “friend” on Facebook. I have some basic criteria around this:

  • Do I know you?  Are we really friends?  Are we related?
  • Have we ever been to each others homes?  Worked in the same office?  Participated in shared social or work events?
  • Did we go to school together?  Have we been neighbors?
  • Do our kids know each other?  Have we ever shared a meal together?
  • Do we have a history?

If one or more of those items is true, then you are a real person who I really know. Even if our relationship now is mostly virtual due to time or space constraints, that doesn’t make you less of a friend to me. I do not make casual decisions to “friend” people on Facebook.  I may have different criteria for LinkedIn. I consider that to be a place for business and professional connections. Just because we have a business connection, does not mean that we have a personal connection. These two platforms, Facebook and LinkedIn, do not necessarily cross pollinate in my connections lists. Blog posts are a different animal, and I recognize that anyone, anywhere, can read something I have written on my blog.

But let’s be honest, social media is designed to be social. Even introverts like me, maybe especially introverts like me, have a desire to connect with others in a variety of ways. By simple virtue of our humanity, we have some level of need to relate to other human beings. As for being an introvert, social media may be exactly the right way for me to connect. Let’s face it, the expectations and responsibilities are fairly easy to manage. I choose to share certain facts, photos, and events. Whether my social media friends respond to them or not is inconsequential. It is my personal choice to put myself out there. Of course, there are things I don’t share. Some news is not mine to tell, and some days are simply mundane. I don’t feel a need to tell my friends every bit of my routine every day.

When I do share little bits of life, it’s because I have considered my audience and determined that maybe I can bring some small amount of cheer or knowledge or emotion or caring to my friends. Maybe we can sympathize with one another as I let my friends know what’s going on in my life; my actual friends, since we have already established that none of you is strictly a virtual friend. So I share. I write these occasional blog posts, I post photos on Facebook and Instagram, and I post my reading lists on Goodreads. Whether you choose to read it or not is entirely up to you. Whether you enjoy it or agree with it or hate it or respond to it is up to you.

Self portrait of a wallflower.

Self portrait of a wallflower.

The truth is I am probably more social online than I am in person. In person, at first glance some might consider me to be unapproachable or stand-offish. I don’t think of myself that way, but throughout my life I have been shy, and much more at home in the world of books and alone time than in a crowded room. Over time and with a great deal of effort I have overcome some of my deepest fears and reluctance to socialize. I can stand in front of a podium with 500 people in the audience and make a speech, but getting to really know people up close and personal is still a little daunting. I genuinely like people, but still feel socially awkward sometimes and will always be a bit of a wallflower. Of course, once we really get to know one another all bets are off and you’ll find me to be more outgoing and even boisterous. But sharing my life online is frequently easier than sharing face to face.

I often crave privacy and time spent by myself. Privacy means I am not sharing every thought with every person, including my closest family. Privacy happens within the confines of my home or some other place where I am essentially alone and want to stay that way. If you want a strict privacy rule surrounding your thoughts, photos, and ideas, then don’t post them online.

So once you have established your online “friends” criteria, and set your app’s privacy settings where you want them, there’s one other rule of thumb for what to post. Ask yourself this question: if you were meeting your friends for coffee would you share the same information with them?

As for copyright law, here is the basic fact: “Your work is under copyright protection the moment it is created and fixed in a tangible form that it is perceptible either directly or with the aid of a machine or device.” That language comes directly from the US Copyright Office. I hope that people would not flagrantly plagiarize anything I have written or used my photos without attributing them to me. As a person who has been writing for nearly her whole life, plagiarism, to me, is one of the most morally objectionable crimes I can think of. It cuts to the core of taking someone else’s thoughts and language, which are very personal. As a former journalist, I am a strong believer in attribution when you borrow someone else’s words.  (Note:  I am attributing by hyperlink in this post.)

Information is a powerful tool. I don’t believe that Facebook is stealing my photos or violating copyright laws, but invite you to read their data policies to get the complete lowdown. After you have read the policies, if you don’t like what they do and how they function, then cancel your Facebook account. But know this: privacy online is an oxymoron.

Then and Now

Do you go to your high school reunions? I have missed a few, but I usually go and I’m not at all sure why. I guess in some ways it’s an affirmation that my life turned out okay after all.

I am comfortable with myself and the life I have. No – not everything is perfect in this life. But it’s okay. I have a great family that I am extremely proud of. My career is alright. And my health is mostly decent. Nothing about this life is ostentatious. It’s all modest, but meaningful. And at age 55 that’s all just fine with me.

High school was a challenge for me. Academically I was fine, but socially I struggled a bit. In my first years of high school I was your basic wallflower. I was not involved in many extracurricular activities.  I was that nerdy girl who dabbled in Debate Club – for real – and was never very good at it. Looking back on it, it’s actually pretty funny that I have made a career out of public speaking over the past 35 years.

Top:  Four best friends in high school Bottom:  Missing one, but we don't look too bad for grownups

Top: Four best friends in high school
Bottom: Missing one, but we don’t look too bad for grownups

During the second half of high school I came out of that shell a bit. I was in a play and I got a part time job after school, and both of those things helped me to open up a bit. I made more friends, and went to more parties, and started dating.

I have never been a social butterfly. Don’t get me wrong – I love spending time with people I know and care for. I have fabulous friends! But I have never been good at small talk and am truly still an introvert. Somewhere deep within me will always live that four year old who cried because she had to go to nursery school, and the ten year old who lived so much in the world of the fiction books she loved that her mother had to admonish her to “put that book down and go outside and play” on a nice day. More often than not I took the book with me outside.

But here comes another reunion. It’s a multi-class reunion from my high school, and the real draw for me this time is the hope of seeing some of the people I truly liked who did not graduate in my class. In fact, this reunion is spanning two decades worth of classes, and I fully expect there will be a lot of people there with whom I have no connection. Or if I do, it’s because of connections we have made in the community and outside of the school walls. But with over 500 people set to attend, I am certain there will be at least a few people that I know and remember.

So I will go, with one of my longest (not oldest) friends and our husbands. My friend and I agreed that we look pretty good for our ages, and here in our mid 50’s it doesn’t really matter all that much. We are comfortable with the people we are now, and we hope to reconnect with some people who may have been part of our history.

Reunions are more daunting before you turn 40. That’s when the expectations are higher: you expect that everyone will look great and will have hit their career stride and will have a perfect family life. If anyone else has judged me, then so be it. I can’t stop them and I don’t care, and now in my mid 50’s I know the truth:  the only expectations ever have been inside my own head. Well past the wallflower stage, I now represent the total of my experiences over a pretty well-lived life.

So I look forward to seeing old friends at the reunion this week, with no stress, no judgment, and no expectations; just a walk down memory lane and a good time.

Friendship

The first person that I ever called “friend” lives just half an hour away from me now. When we first knew each other we lived right next door with a sidewalk that separated our houses by about five feet. We could literally open our bedroom windows and talk to each other, and we did. Our second and third grade selves swooned over Davy Jones and chilled out to The Beatles. We hung out with the neighborhood kids until dark on summer nights, doing a whole lot of nothing. It was a great life.

That's me on the left, with my friend.  We are standing in front of her house.  My house is in the background, so you can see how close our houses were.

That’s me on the left, with my friend, probably about 1967. We are standing in front of her house. My house is in the background, so you can see how close our houses were.

Then my family moved away, and I eventually lost touch with my very first friend. But there are some very good reasons to love social media and this is one of them: we reconnected on Facebook, and that’s how I know she still lives in our old hometown. She somehow unearthed this photo of the two of us and posted it, and we really MUST find a time to get together. Even though it’s just half an hour away, it sometimes seems daunting because life gets far too busy. But it shouldn’t. Not for friends.

When I pause to count blessings, I am overwhelmed by the truly wonderful women I am lucky to have as friends. Some are people I grew up with and we have been friends for over four decades. These people know more about me than some members of my own family. Sometimes, I think they know more about me than I even know myself. But they are not telling, because friends keep each others secrets. Since one member of our little group lives pretty far away now, I will drop everything to spend just a little time with her when she is in the area. Luckily, one of those times is coming up!

I am fortunate to have friends whose children have grown up with my children, friends I have worked with, and friends I have met through other friends. The past couple of weekends I paused from my otherwise intense spring home and yard chores to have coffee with friends: two separate occasions with two separate friends. One lives locally and we see each other occasionally, but it was really special to have some one-on-one time. The other lives in the area, but we really don’t get much time together since she moved an hour and a half away, so it was great to catch up. These opportunities to catch up on our kids, our interests, or our jobs are just cathartic. These shared moments are nothing special, and everything special, all at the same time.

I could spend a lot of time analyzing the key ingredients for friendship, but honestly that’s just a waste of time. The older I get, the more I realize that the really important thing is to just be together once in a while. There is no need to analyze everything. We can just let friendship be what it is.

So….to my very first friend…watch your Facebook message box. I’m throwing some dates out to you. We can have lunch, or coffee, or just take a walk. But we WILL reconnect in person. Soon.

Double Nickel

Here I am turning 55. Just how on God’s green earth did I get this old?

I have a close friend of over four decades who calls this birthday “55 Alive.” You see, her father never made it to that age, so for her family, turning 55 is a reason to both celebrate and reflect. I am borrowing that philosophy today.

There may come a point in each of our lives when we look critically at who we are and what we have accomplished, and realize that we have more years behind us than we have ahead. In these moments I pause to wonder, what remains to be done? It is then that I start looking for good examples.

Finding and being a good example is something my mother used to dwell on. When we were children she wanted us older kids to set good examples for the younger ones. We hated that at the time. Now as I look for good examples, I also look AT my mother. At 84 years young, she has raised five children, outlived her husband of more than 40 years, and lives life very much on her own terms. In her senior years she has been active in numerous community groups and clubs, built her own at-home sewing business, learned to play the piano, and keeps busy attending cultural events and spending time with friends.

My 9th birthday, with the Schwinn I got from my great aunt.  Note the white knee socks worn by me and all of my sisters.

My 9th birthday, with the Schwinn I got from my great aunt.

When I was a teenager, I condemned so much of what I felt my mother stood for. There she was, tied to a home and family, giving up her “self” for the sake of others. That, I swore, would never be me. In the 1970’s women were burning bras and rallying against a male-dominated society, and those were the women I admired. But life has ways of redirecting us and now I, too, have raised my family and am shuffling my cards again.

In many ways I will never be my mother. Her faith is strong. She is incredibly organized. She is more calm and collected than I will ever be. Despite our differences, I have grown to deeply respect her and she is a great example.

So as I move on in my own journey, I have reviewed my own priorities and found that I have already been somewhat successful. My daughters are pursuing their own lives, my husband and I are finding our way back to our own relationship without children, and my career paths and volunteer work have, I think, made a positive contribution to my community and fulfilled my own sense of self.

What’s left? For starters, I am working to be healthier, so that I can enjoy this next stretch of my life with some degree of physical comfort. I will always have this stupid disease/condition called Achalasia to deal with, but I refuse to be either defined or debilitated by it. Creative pursuits are more of a priority than ever: writing especially. And the time I spend with family and friends is precious.

If you make it to this point in your life without scars then you have taken no risks. The scars: physical, emotional, or psychological, make us stronger. These battle wounds are the result of loss, illness, fear, and unrealized ambitions. Life is scary and messy and almost never goes our way, so I will wear my scars with pride at having navigated the chaos so far.

I have also been blessed to be surrounded by interesting people. I have family and friends who are caring, thinking, and committed. They are engaged in the world around them, in other people, in nature, and in projects that improve not only their lives but the lives of others.

When I was young, I wanted to change the world. Guess what? The world has changed during the course of my life; some of it for the better, some for the worse, and hardly any of it because of anything that I did or didn’t do.

I am rarely content to simply be content. Now, as I move past this double nickel birthday, I hope to use whatever time I have left to find just a small sliver of contentment as I still work to fill my time with purposeful pursuits. There are many, many working years remaining before retirement is even an option. Despite that, I am going to make time to enjoy this beautiful earth around me and the fabulous range of people who inhabit it.

Maybe it is no coincidence that the “double nickel” is standard highway driving speed – 55mph. Care to join me for a birthday cruise?

Carpe Diem

There are many, many mornings when I don’t care to seize the day.  I would rather seize the alarm clock and throw it across the room, curl up again in the cozy comforter and take an early morning nap, or spend the entire day lost in a book.  These are the moments when I feel strongly that productivity is overrated.

Then, I am inspired.

Most often I am inspired by people I know and respect:  people who are making things happen and making a difference.  They are engaged with others and are focused on making a positive difference in someone else’s life.

This past week has been interesting, to say the least.  It came with a broad range of emotions, from unspeakable sadness to the bright light of renewed optimism.  I have been inspired by many friends this week:  some friends who have faced terrible losses, others who are literally facing battles for their lives due to illness, and still others who may be seeking employment.  In the midst of all of this, we returned our youngest to college leaving us once again with a very low-energy home life.

Plaster ladies, without a care in the world.

Plaster ladies, without a care in the world.

Then, out of the blue, I received an email from someone I don’t know that has proved to be very affirming.  It was sincerely one of those “aha!” moments.  I felt like delivering Sally Field’s now famous line from her 1984 Best Actress Oscar win:  “You like me!”

I don’t know why it is that some of us have bouts with low self-esteem.  I am one of those people.  Make no mistake; there are countless days when I am sincerely on top of my game, confident in my abilities, and assertive in all the right ways.  Then there are other days when the dark gray cloud overhead just won’t seem to lift and it is sucking me in to its all-is-wrong-with-the-world funk.  Everything is subject to second guessing.

So why, then, should a single email from someone I have never met bring me an extraordinary lift from this gray gorge of gloom?  Because it is a reminder that the steps I have taken have been worthwhile to others.  It has allowed me to look at myself through less critical eyes, and to understand that some people see me as strong, capable, and helpful.  I can be all of those things, but I need to work at it.  Daily.

And it is in that moment that I can look at the inspiring lives of my friends and family and say thank you.  Thank you for showing me how you move forward, sometimes in the face of real gloom.  Thanks to my daughters for demonstrating purposefulness at an early age.  Thank you to my friends for showing me that inside my own head is sometimes the worst place to curl up, and it is far better to face the real challenges of the day.  I am inspired by your grace under pressure, your purposeful interaction with others, and your faith.  Thank you for setting wonderful examples for so many people, including me.

Now let’s go seize that day, together.

Mirror Mirror

We look for the mirror to reflect back our best.  That is true physically, emotionally, and psychologically.  We also expect the mirror to show us our flaws, in the hope that we can make them better.

That is the true nature of friendship:  show us the reality of who we are, and at the same time lead us to improvement.  Those are the real friends – the people who reflect our best and are willing to see our worst.  They not only accept the reality, they share in our joys and sorrows.  They help us to grow and become better people.

Friends

Friends

In our home, when our daughters are here their friends are here too.  There is a special kind of energy in the house when they are here together.  It is connectedness on a different level, not just for our kids but for our whole family.

We have always felt fortunate that our daughters have excellent friends.  They chose to connect with kids who, like them, were involved:  in music, academics, sports, church, volunteering, and life.  Their friends were more than just playmates.  They were sounding boards and competitors.  They shared open dialogue and sometimes arguments.  They lifted each other up and helped each other through the awkward years.

Our kids always knew that their friends were welcome in our home.  They had their alone time together.  They had sleepovers and parties.  We also shared family time with them.  We ate together, played games together, and went places together.  At a concert or a sporting event, we applauded and cheered just as loudly for their friends as we did for our own kids. I would sometimes come home from work and find the kitchen a mess after their baking sessions.  That still happens.

Having watched these people grow up, we now get to see their next steps and it’s exciting.  We stand in awe as they move into young adulthood.  They are continuing their educations, or working, or both.  They are gracious and caring.  They have purpose in their lives.  They are committed to things they believe in.  They are headed across continents into career paths they may not have fully discovered yet.  They are smart and savvy.

We don’t know their new friends very well.  We may have been introduced in a dorm or apartment at one time or another.  We may have shared an occasional meal during a visit to one of their colleges.  We hear their names.  But some we have never met, and it is hard to put an unknown face to a name.  Never the less, we are certain that our daughters have made great choices in their new friendships.  We know that, because the groundwork was laid a long time ago with some extraordinary people.

Now, after their holidays, our daughters and their friends are heading back to their own lives in far flung places.

A mirror is not truly a reflection of who we are.  It gives us a glimpse of who we want to be, and sometimes who we didn’t know we were.  I hope you always have one by your side, in the form of a real and honest friend.

Gifts for Sisters

As we Christmas shop we always consider balance.  Because we have two daughters, we consider how much they are different, and how much they are the same.  Sisters

When they were little we always made sure they each had the same number of presents.  We still do that now.  All parents probably do that – making sure that neither child feels slighted.  Presents, after all, are an outward display of affection.  So demonstrating more affection towards one or the other is never a good thing.

When they were young, one loved everything pink and the other loved everything blue.  So they would often get the same thing, only one in pink and one in blue:  sweaters, doll clothes, backpacks.  That is how it was for several years.  Now that they are older, we still try to balance gifts – a scarf for one, gloves for the other.  That’s how it goes when you have two.  Because they will always compare notes.  Always.

Ever since the youngest one learned to talk, and possibly even before that, they have shared their lives with one another.  They used to share bunk beds and toys.  Now they share stories of their separate lives in different places; tales of their college experiences, their friends, and their feelings.  They are each others’ touchstones and confidantes.  They are sisters, and they are friends.

When they are apart they miss one another.  I know for a fact that they Skype, chat and text frequently, because they sometimes mention it to one or the other of their parents.   Oh yes, they keep us in the loop, but they keep each other closer.  We hope they will always be close, long after we are gone.

I can still walk into a store and pick out something that each of them would like.  Gift giving has never been hard with either of them, and I’m actually fairly good at recognizing their tastes.  In fact, it’s too easy.  I really have to reign in my spending, but usually my husband and the budget help with that.

We aren’t giving a lot this year, but they will get a few surprises under the Christmas tree.   The truth is we have already given them their greatest gifts:  each other.